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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Correspondent Susan writes:

Oh, boy! Tipis! Feather bonnets! funny names! This one has it all. Another cartoon to watch.

I always thought that 'Chief Rain in the Face' was a made-up name. But in South Dakota, I saw an old picture of a man with that name. I don't know if it was really his name.

Also, I heard that the people do assign funny names. For example, they had assigned one woman the nomer 'Drives like a turtle'.

Rob's reply
For information on Rain-in-the Face, see:


Rain in the Face, a Limited Edition by Ken West

Who Was Rain-in-the-Face?

It would be interesting to learn if the Mixed Media people knew of this person. I tend to doubt it. But maybe seeing the name somewhere inspired the cartoon. Or maybe they thought of the cartoon first, then chose the name Rain-in-the-Face to "innoculate" themselves from criticism.

Naturally, I criticize them anyway. Even if they chose a genuine name rather than inventing a "funny name," they're still using the name to trivialize Indians and Indian culture. Similarly, you could make fun of genuine names like Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse, and I'm sure many "humorists" have done so. But that doesn't make it right.

Using a real name merely shifts the criticism from trivializing Native names to mocking real Natives. Suppose you were a descendant of the real Chief Rain-in-the-Face and came across this cartoon. How embarrassing would that be?

Using a real person's name is arguably worse than making up a "funny" Indian name. Your best bet is not to make fun of Indians, period. If it's not your culture, you're likely to make a mistake.

Which is not to say you can't tell funny stories about Indians, or stories about funny Indians, if you do it right. Laughing with someone and laughing at someone are two different things.

Incidentally, I doubt any Native ever seriously named another Native "Drives Like a Turtle." That sounds like a lighthearted nickname to me, not a real name chosen through a ceremony or other naming convention.

Related links
"Funny" Indian names
Native comic strips vs. comic books

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